Sunday, April 27, 2014

Movies: Things Get Fixed, They Don't Get Better

My sophomore year of university, my roommate announced without prologue "I think I'm going to become a film buff."
Thus we were left with 'where do you begin?'
Learning about technique? Just watching a lot? If so which?
Over the next few days he went around the internet gathering bits from various list (I'm wholly unsure of his methodology) until he produced a list title 'Movies to Watch Before I Die.'

Saving the early years for later, we started in the 60's. Psycho, 2001: A Space Oddessey, Dr. Strangeglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Planet of the Apes, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Spartacus, Bonnie and Clyde, Night of the Living Dead, and the Manchurian Candidate, Cool Hand Luke.

Quickly we saw an emerging (and predictable) pattern of anti-authoritarian and modernist motives with smaller groups pitted against larger ones. But anyone could tell you that's what the times were about. There was civil rights, civil unrest, the Vietnam War, and drugs.

Then we moved into the 70's.
The Godfather I & II, One Flew Over the Kuckoo's Nest, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Alien, Rocky, Star Wars, Harold and Maude, Dog Day Afternoon, Soylent Green (arguable on quality), Network, Annie Hall, and Grease.

Again we see some of the same themes, but with a stronger lean for paranoia and conspiracy, but still smaller characters fighting against huge opposing odds and changing to get there and often challenging the status quo by the end of the reel.

One could (and has) written on these ideas in film for ages, but the one that struck me was transformation.
The great majority of films of this period deal with two stages: struggle or challenge and change.

So What?

 I only noticed this due to striking contrast of movies of today. Each one is more focused on struggle and repair. I'm not saying that change/transformation is absent but that characters are more likely to face a problem and solve it without significant change. If change is present, the transformation is to enable problem solving and is much less strongly emphasized or relegated to a montage.

This ignoring of change is conflated with the glut of magical/super-powered characters we've received in the cinema's last decade.
Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Twilight, Hulk, Iron Man, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, , X-Men, Thor, The Dark Knight, Superman, The Incredibles, etc.
All of these characters started the film with the tools to solve the problem before we walk in the theatre (unless it's an origin story).
If the character isn't superpowered;Taken, Die Hard 4 and 5, James Bond, The Fast and the Furious V and VI, 300, Gladiator, Django, they were highly trained (again before we're introduced, except Django who is a perfect shot because Tarantino says so).

Movies that should focus on transformation like Avatar get caught up in visuals and pandering. Jake Sully begins the narrative handicapped and regains his body while adapting to a new culture. But we see none of his change from being crippled (he can instantaneously walk after about 6 seconds in an avatar) and the only knowledge we get of his cultural appreciation is clips less than 30 seconds in total.
And the system change is engendered by a problem he caused. He must fix his mistakes, rather than create a better system. The new system that takes over is only grafted onto a voice-over epilogue like an afterthought.

I'll refrain from making any connections with our economy or political strife, or having a skill set immediately instead of working hard being a correlation with the tech-age and Millenials. Someone's surely done it already. Nevertheless, I find it enormously unsatisfying that so much of the last decade's cinema is dedicated to repair rather than renovation. I never get to see my characters really change or grow and they all too often just become over tropes place holders for a superpower, set of skills, whatever.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Movies to Watch Before I Die

My second year of university my roommate made a list of....

  1. Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) (1954)
  2. Vertigo (1958)
  3. Jaws (1975)
  4. King Kong (1933)
  5. The Godfather Pt.II (1974)
  6. Raging Bull (1980)
  7. Metropolis (1927)
  8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  9. Star Wars (1977)
  10. City Lights (1931)
  11. The Great Dictator (1940)
  12. Citizen Kane (1941)
  13. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
  14. Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) (1948)
  15. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  16. M (1931)
  17. Taxi Driver (1976)
  18. La Strada (1954)
  19. Modern Times (1936)
  20. Casablanca (1942)
  21. Rear Window (1954)
  22. Network (1976)
  23. All About Eve (1950)
  24. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
  25. Nuovo cinema paradisio (1988)
  26. 8 ½ (1963)
  27. WALL-E (2008)
  28. Manhattan (1979)
  29. Annie Hall (1977)
  30. Groundhog Day (1993)
  31. Fight Club (1999)
  32. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  33. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
  34. Good Will Hunting (1997)
  35. His Girl Friday (1940)
  36. Harold and Maude (1971)
  37. The Apartment (1960)
  38. The Graduate (1967)
  39. It Happened One Night (1934)
  40. La Dolce Vita (1960)
  41. Roman Holiday (1953)
  42. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  43. Big Fish (2003)
  44. The Lost Weekend (1945)
  45. La Fabulous Destin d'Amelie Poulain (Amelie) (2001)
  46. Brief Encounter (1945)
  47. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  48. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  49. Some Like it Hot (1959)
  50. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
  51. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
  52. Safety Last (1923)
  53. The General (1926)
  54. The Gold Rush (1925)
  55. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
  56. Ed Wood (1944)
  57. In Bruges (2008)
  58. Duck Soup (1933)
  59. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  60. The Hangover (2009)
  61. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
  62. The Big Lebowski (1998)
  63. Fargo (1996)
  64. The Sting (1973)
  65. My Man Godfrey (1936)
  66. Forrest Gump (1994)
  67. The Kid (1921)
  68. Life of Brian (1979)
  69. La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) (1997)
  70. Stand By Me (1986)
  71. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  72. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)
  73. Great Expectations (1946)
  74. Umberto D. (1952)
  75. The Hustler (1961)
  76. 12 Angry Men (1957)
  77. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
  78. La Schaphandre et le Papillion (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) (2007)
  79. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  80. Le notti di Cabria (Nights of Cabiria) (1957)
  81. Smultronsallet (Wild Strawberries) (1957)
  82. The Wrestler (2008)
  83. Mystic River (2003)
  84. Million Dollar Baby (2004)t
  85. Changeling (2008)
  86. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  87. On the Waterfront (1954)
  88. Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (2006)
  89. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  90. Judgement at Nuremburg (1961)
  91. Mr. Smith goes to Washington (1939)
  92. Wo Hu Cang Long (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) (2000)
  93. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  94. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
  95. High Noon (1952)
  96. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
  97. Unforgiven (1992)
  98. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  99. Yojimbo (1961)
100. Per qualce dollaro in piu (For a Few Dollars More) (1965)
101. C'era una volta il west (Once upon a Time in the West) (1968)
102. Il buono, il bruto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) (1966)
103. Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (1957)
104. Ghandi (1982)
105. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
106. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
107. Amores Perros (2000)
108. Cidade de dues (City of God) (2002)
109. Into the Wild (2007)
110. Amadeus (1984)
111. Singing in the Rain (1952)
112. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
113. There Will be Blood (2007)
114. Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) (1953)
115. The African Queen (1951)
116. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
117. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
118. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
119. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
120. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
121. Touch of Evil (1958)
122. Rashemon (1950)
123. Dial M for Murder (1954)
124. Notorious (1946)
125. Rebecca (1940)
126. Strangers on a Train (1951)
127. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
128. North by Northwest (1959)
129. Rope (1948)
130. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
131. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
132. Slueth (1972)
133. Witness for the Persecution (1957)
134. Les diaboliques (Diabolique) (1955)
135. L.A. Confidential (1977)
136. Laura (1944)
137. The Big Sleep (1946)
138. The Third Man (1949)
139. Double Indemnity (1944)
140. The Usual Suspects (1994)
141. Chinatown (1974)
142. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
143. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
144. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
145. The Prestige (2006)
147. Oldboy (2003)
148. Casino (1995)
149. Goodfellas (1990)
150. The Killing (1956)
151. Resevoir Dogs (1992)
152. Pulp Fiction (1994)
153. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
154. The Godfather (1972)
155. Scarface (1983)
156. Snatch (2000)
157. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
158. Leon (1994)
159. Nosferatu (1922)
160 Lat den ratte komma in (Let the Right One In) (2008)
161. Se7en (1995)
162. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
163. Psycho (1960)
164. No Country for Old Men (2007)
165. The Shining (1980)
166. The Sixth Sense (1999)
167. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
169. The Exorcist (1973)
170. Frankenstein (1931)
171. The Thing (1982)
172. The Terminator (1984)
173. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
174. Heat (1995)
175. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
176. Kill Bill Vo. 2 (2004)
177. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
178. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
179. The Great Escape (1963)
180. Rocky (1976)
181. Die Hard (1988)
182. The Dark Knight (2008)
183. Batman Begins (2005)
184. Sin City (2005)
185. American History X (1998)
186. Gran Torino (2008)
187. Crash (2004)
188. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
189. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
190. The Elephant Man (1980)
191. The Green Mile (1999)
192. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
193. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
194. Trainspotting (1996)
195. Memento (2000)
196. American Beauty (1999)
197. Magnolia (1999)
198. Aliens (1986)
199. Alien (1979)
200. Planet of the Apes (1968)
201. Star Trek (2009)
202. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
203. Blade Runner (1982)
204. The Matrix (1999)
205. Donnie Darko (2001)
206. V For Vendetta (2005)
207. Children of Men (2006)
208. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
209. Back to the Future (1985)
210. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
211. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
212. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
213. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
214. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
215. Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983)
216. Harvey (1950)
217. The Princess Bride (1987)
218. Der Untergang (Downfall) (2004)
219. Schindler's List (1993)
220. The Pianist (2002)
221. Das Boot (1981)
222. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
223. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
224. Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
225. The Deer Hunter (1978)
226. Platoon (1986)
227. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
228. Apocalypse Now (1987)
229. La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) (1966)
230. Paths of Glory (1957)
231. Braveheart (1995)
232. Stalag 17 (1953)
234. Ren (1985)
235. Spartacus (1960)
236. Gladiator (2000)
237. Ben-Hur (1959)
238. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
239. Patton (1970)
240. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
241. Glory (1989)
242. Hotaru no Haka (Grave of Fireflies) (1988)
243. Mononoke-Hime (Princess Mononoke) (1997)
244. Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) ( 2001)
245. Up (2009)
246. Ratatouille (2007)
247. The Incredibles (2004)
248. Finding Nemo (2003)
249. Toy Story (1995)
250. The Lion King (1994)

The Paradox of American Nudity: Being in the Dark on Body Image

Think of all the naked people you've seen in your life, in person or on a screen. If your the average American, then the majority is from movies, TV (especially cable), various photo sites (imgur, tumblr, etc) and porn. If we extend that to partially clothed or advertising's tastefully nude then you can add magazines, commercials, and even billboards.
And if you're the average American, then the minority will be people you see in person.

I'm certainly not trying to make a statement about porn or the oversexualization in media, but I want to talk about body image and how we learn to form it.
Sex sells, this a fact of advertising. But, if the medium doesn't allow for sex, then sexy works just as well.

Actresses in television has transformed in the last few decades from being pretty, attractive, beautiful, and gorgeous to any combination as long as it's at least 50% on the sexy side.
Actors are given more slack but the trend is the same. When I rewatch Breaking Bad episodes, I realize that Walter White may be one of the last male leads who cannot be described as smoldering, hot, or even conventionally handsome.

Why This is a Problem

Overly sexy and sexualized people are going be in mainstream media. This, for the foreseeable future, is unavoidable.
The issue is that overly sexy women and men in mass media are becoming our basis for body judgments for ourselves and those around us.
This is compounded by our general culture of anti-nudity, leaving us with the paradox that nudity should pervade if it's at a distance, but in person it's often viewed between strange and unacceptable. Even in nude spaces. In America the number of open shower gyms is vastly overshadowed by the number of gyms offering private ones, so the chances of even glimpsing another body declines. Moreover, when people get ready in a nude space like a gym, they hurry to hide and conceal themselves until at least underwear is donned.

I never considered this, until my girlfriend came back from our gym after using the showers for the first time and expressed the immense relief she felt seeing a variety of other naked women for the first time.
She's 22, and until that point she simply didn't get the scope of variation the human body has to offer.

I can only imagine what seeing a group of average (a word which has become strong avoided in description) bodies can do for self image after only seeing media manufactured and frankly overly similar. These tailor made photogenic bodies only represent a portion of our real corporeal demographic, but with an aggressive market and even more aggressive marketing they are normalized to the point of being our litmus test of physical beauty.

This is exacerbated painfully if you're a minority. The vast number in media are made to have a look to grab the largest audiences (i.e. white). So minorities in mainstream media, already left with little representation, are comparing themselves to already incompatible paradigm.

Past to Today

Undoubtedly this was a problem in the past but today it's exacerbated ad nauseam. Fifty years ago we used to be significantly more covered up in media. The laws were much tougher and public outrage was such a threat that the first belly button to air on TV had to be have less then 3 seconds in screen time. Men and women would still bear a tailored  and specific look that didn't represent society as a whole but the details were unknown and not as great a source of dysmorphia. In that time being self conscious could remain in face and figure. Compare to today, with the same nude images in repetition, anyone with modem becomes anxious.

Posing and Motion

Seeing a group of nude people is eye-opening but witnessing these bodies in motion is even more so.It's then that we appreciate that posture and posing can mean everything.
So here's our rub of inter-connectivity: we see the right bodies at a distance, and we imitate it. In a time of increasing visibility, average is unacceptable. And so we learn to pose.

Facebook photos today have stopped being casual. They are often planned and changed. The average university student can sense a camera in a room and more important can place themselves for optimal positioning.
Flip through a few online albums and you'll quickly notice the same handful of body stances and poses in a loop. The trend is so ubiquitous, many already have names (sorority squat, knee pop, duck face, etc).

The number of students who know how to strike a good pose wouldn't surprise anyone, but the number of unspoken doctored FB photos probably would.

Overall, we keep looking at others in reference to ourselves and comparing. I'm not saying it's intrinsically a bad thing, but if you want to look at media as standard for your own beauty, know that the odds are stacked high against you.